The design discipline has changed. Once, industrial designers were radicals with plans to change how we work, travel and relax. But, in the post-modernist world, corporations have woken up to the marketing potential of design, and almost every idea for a new product – whether wheeled, winged or washing machine – starts life within, or passes through, a CAD program. The effect, in many cases, can be a dull homogeneity. Automotive enthusiasts, for example, lament that different makes of motorcar no longer look that different; they’ve become like subtle variations of a single species.
But there are still a few old-school industrial designers at work, like octogenarian German icon Luigi Colani. In the words of British designer Ross Lovegrove, “Colani’s place is secured as perhaps the most influential ‘form visionary’ of the Twentieth Century in the field of industrial design. He has created dreams that push the limits of our perception of space and technological possibility to the edge of the Earth’s stratosphere, and as the world of industrial design sought safety and acceptance through restraint, he just kept blowing minds with the fusion of art and organic design. He remains ever relevant, connecting man to machine in the most profoundly utopian of ways.”
At Plankstadt, near Heidelberg in Central Germany, there is a small, family owned machine shop noted for its success in general engineering and subcontract machining of metal and plastic components. There’s nothing extraordinary about that; there are thousands of similar companies the length and breadth of Germany’s industrial hinterland. But, behind the unassuming façade there’s a father and son contingent at work building automotive creations that began life as midnight epiphanies rather than as resolutions by a committee. Creations like the Street Ray.
When Luigi Colani designed the Street Ray in September 2004, he didn’t use a CAD system. Instead, he made one freehand sketch of the car and faxed it to Martin Preuss, owner of precision engineering firm Technop GmbH, with the simple instruction that it was to be built exactly as he had imagined it. Assuming Preuss would agree to Colani’s demand, and despite meeting for the first time just a few days earlier, they were henceforth in partnership. Preuss accepted the challenge and hasn’t looked back since.
The various Haas CNC machine tools in the Technop workshop spend most of their time machining aluminium and stainless steel components for a wide variety of customers – everything from well-known German automotive manufacturers to small medical device manufacturers. Martin Preuss’ other company, H&P Trading GmbH, was established to turn automotive flights-of-fancy like Colani’s Street Ray into reality.
Street Ray may not have the universal appeal of a Ferrari, the engineering of a Porsche or the heritage of a Morgan, but with its streamlined fenders and fighter-jet nose, it’s reminiscent of the futuristic concept cars shown at the auto salons of the 1950s and ’60s. It is homage to the pre-CAD, pre-wind tunnel days of organic design. More than anything, though, it’s a design indulgence: a simple, unadulterated celebration of form and the vision of its creators.
“The Street Ray appeals to people who like to be different, but also to people who want to own a Colani design,” Herr Preuss explains. “It’s as much a work of art as a mode of transport.”
Colani’s insistence that Preuss stick to his original design meant H&P Trading had a challenge on its hands. The company used its Haas VF-6 CNC machining centre to make many of the model prototypes and moulds required to produce the flowing, streamlined bodywork that Colani had imagined in a fit of creativity. H&P also used its fleet of Haas CNC machine tools to manufacture many of the Street Ray’s other prismatic parts in-house.
“We invested in Haas CNC machine tools to replace our ageing Taiwanese machines,” says Herr Preuss. “We bought a variety of types and sizes, to give us as much machining capability as possible. We currently have a Super Mini Mill, a VF-2 and a VF-6 machining centre, a TL-1 Toolroom Lathe and an SL-30 CNC turning centre with driven tools. All of these have been purchased since 2002 and are used for our everyday machining, as well as our special projects.”
Another of H&Ps “special projects” has recently started to take shape: The T-Rod. Where Street Ray is an exercise in vehicle aesthetics, T-Rod places more emphasis on the driving experience.
“My son Markus and I designed T-Rod simply to give maximum driving fun,” says Herr Preuss. “It fuses the front end of a racecar with the rear of a high-performance racing motorcycle. The feel is of a formula racing-car on the road. It comes with a 650 or 1250 cc motorcycle engine and a six-speed sequential gearbox.”
The company machines numerous prismatic components for the T-Rod on its Haas VF-6, including complex aluminium alloy wheel parts and hardened-steel mudguard moulds. Other Haas machines produce parts for the complete steering assembly, the suspension and the brakes.
H&P Trading sells around 25 specialist vehicles a year, and Martin Preuss jokes that the company is turning into the Orange County Choppers of Germany. They may be thousands of kilometers apart, but both companies rely on Haas CNC machine tools.
“The price, specification and quality of Haas machines is difficult to beat,” says Herr Preuss. “However, what makes Haas really special is its exemplary service. In my opinion, it reflects the contrast between customer service in Europe and in the U.S. In the latter, more attention is paid to service, whether you buy a new car or a new machine tool. It’s certainly true when you invest in a Haas.”
Herr Preuss also credits the local Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) for its commitment to providing unwavering support. “The co-operation and trust we have established with the local HFO [a division of Katzenmeier Maschinen-Service GmbH] is one of the main reasons we can respond quickly and reliably to the needs of our customers,” he concludes. “In my mind, anything less is unacceptable. We are as uncompromising in our demands and our standards as the clients we work for, whether its one of our everyday customers or a design genius like Luigi Colani.”
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